Facebook not apologetic for emotion-manipulating study


The Appalachian Online

Lindsey Chandler

It is no surprise Facebook continues to be a hot topic in the news. With its increase in annoying advertising and perpetually changing user interface, it has fallen from good graces.

The ever-popular social media website is under fire yet again, only this time for continuing to collect data for an emotionally manipulative experiment that infuriated many users.

In early 2012, Facebook conducted a mood-manipulation experiment on 690,000 users, supposedly without their consent. In the “A/B-type” experiment, news feeds were altered to reflect either generally positive or negative posts. It was an attempt to gauge emotional responses, according to CNN Money.

Results showed generally positive posts led users to post positive news, while generally negative posts influenced users to post negative content of their own.

The problem with this research is ethical: is it acceptable for Facebook to purposefully make users unhappy to produce data?

As researchers, even students at Appalachian State University must be aware no harm should fall upon the participants in a study. These participants have full control over their involvement to avoid that. If a student so chooses, then they may be excluded from a set of subjects.

Facebook research, a much larger entity than one student project, should be held to the same standard.

Facebook chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer claims the outraged reaction to the published results was unexpected, but those results were and are ultimately important to the betterment of the website.

Schroepfer states changes being made to the experiment include new research training for engineers, new guidelines and a new data review process that takes a closer look at potentially sensitive data.

Data collection of this type is nothing new. In addition to Facebook, large companies such as Amazon, Google and Twitter rely on user data for improvement. In the terms and conditions that we never fail to avoid reading, even Facebook does indeed cite that it may use data from our individual profiles.

The frightening fact is what that data may be used for is not explicitly stated.

Sneaky is the idea that Facebook stuck its data usage statement in their terms and conditions, especially being well-aware they are almost never read. No one, let alone Facebook, should be permitted to manipulate our emotions without our informed consent and willingness to participate.

While Facebook is becoming a necessary tool to communicate in life, it is imperative to stay conscious of the fact that whatever we do post can and may be used in this research.

To be honest, I thought I would avoid using a social media platform because I involved it too much in my life, not the other way around.

Chandler, a senior psychology and Spanish major from Cary, is the opinion editor.